Painfully Inane Adwatch: The Twix "Need a Moment" Campaign

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

(Poster's note: in reading the comments, I realized I probably wasn't clear with my criticisms here. I do certainly understand that ads are not to be taken literally, and advertising hasn't been about the actual qualities of the product for decades. We talk about that in the book, even. I was more taken by this particular approach itself, and how I found the conceit itself inane. That said, most of the comments that advertising is not about the product is right on the money, and that right there is a good thing to keep in mind.) Since our book is about advertising, let's talk about some ads. Some awful ads.

If you could find someone totally unaware of what a Twix bar was (friendly alien, unfrozen pilgrim, etc.) and showed them these current crop of Twix ads, and then asked them what Twix bars were, I bet you'd get an answer like "Twix bars? Aren't they those crunch-activated time-stopping rods?"



And that assessment would be totally justified, based on these ads. They're relying on the tenuous idea that we're all not drooling idiots to take this literally, because the only qualities of a Twix bar demonstrated in these commercials are the ability of the Twix bar to stop time. There's nothing mentioned of the taste, the crunch, the dubious energy benefit-- all the usual candy bar selling points-- just the bold suggestion that these crunchy little logs have colossal power over the time-space continuum. I know no one really thinks they can do that, and this is just an advertising conceit, but it's strange when the big marketing appeal of your product is the freedom it gives you to be a jackass.

Before we get anything further, I should make it very clear that they can't stop time. I've said some truly awful, offensive things to people, and when I've tried to use a Twix bar in the demonstrated manner, I've just come off looking even more like an idiot, but this time an idiot with a dripping mouthful of half-masticated candy and a panicked, confused look in his eye.

Now, even beyond the strange misrepresentation of a candy bar as a long wished-for tool of profound power, there's one other really awful thing about these commercials: everything else. The Twix ad agency has managed to concoct that perfect cocktail of unfunny, misogynistic, and confusing all at the same time. In the ad above, what girl is going to be that swept off her feet by some jackass with a popped collar smarmily chiding his idiot man-child friend?

And this one, if possible, may even be worse:



It sounds like it was written by someone's 55 year old uncle who overheard about blogging from his niece when she was talking to a friend on that little Game Boy or whatever it is she's always fiddling with. Sure, maybe it's tongue-in-cheek, and they're aware how insipid it all sounds, but it's just not funny enough to really sell me on that. It has the same improbably stupid women, the same valueless, douchebag guys, the same deus ex candybar qualities for the product.

The real shame here is that Twix bars are really pretty good-- ever scrape away all the chocolate and caramel with your teeth, leaving that pale, perforated shortbread girder? It's fun. And, to the adfolks' credit, I do like the use of the two Twix bars as a pause icon. But, beyond that, Twix admen, "take a moment" for all of us and insert these two Twix bars in your anuses.

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  1. Yes, any gel-haired, pop-collared boob can get the girl using Twix’s power to stop time for 5 seconds!

  2. Twix has come of age in our culture to the point that you don’t need to advertise its taste, texture and ingredients. It’s worthless information because people are aware that twix is a cruncy sweet candy bar. The time-stopping feature is an original idea that brings self-depricating humor to the campaign – It’s relatable, funny, and outrageous.

    But honestly, I’m a Snickers man myself.

  3. The ads are based on the fact that, when placed side by side, two uneaten Twix bars look similar to the “pause” icon on a music or video player.

    However, in my experience if you shove junk food into your mouth in the moment following an awkward faux pas, that awkwardness gets exceedingly worse (not better)- and it certainly never leads to the hot girl pulling me to my bedroom.

  4. This is kind of a sad rant. Let’s be clear, this is not amazing work. But our reviewer hasn’t really considered the intent of these ads and hasn’t been too thoughtful about his analysis.

    There are a few claims about these ads that don’t really stack up when thought about.

    unfunny: Twix wouldn’t expect our reviewer to really enjoy these ads because he’s probably not the target audience.

    misogynistic: it seems to me that the point of these ads is to make fun of the bumbling, idiotic young adult male who can’t form a coherent thought without some sort of supernatural assistance. the payoff appears to be a ridiculous, unreal payoff.

    confusing: maybe confusing to Martians unfamiliar with Twix, yes, but, again, they’re probably not the audience. These ads appear to be more about relating with Twix’s audience and giving them something to laugh at. They are quite poor if they are intended to educate consumers about the physical nature of the product.

    We can all agree that it can be a real hoot to criticize advertising, but any critique should at least have an interesting insight that holds up to scrutiny.

  5. Am I the only one who thinks the whole general trend of ads on American television is toward “Be a bigger asshole with [product name]”? There’s even one that makes it absolutely explicit, where the line right after ‘nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfingerâ„¢’ is ‘You guys are idiots’ (spoken by a woman, who in this case is treated not as stupid but as No Fun).

    They’re all aimed at young men, it seems. That makes sense; young men are the ones who buy this stupid crap (I disagree with Jason about Twixâ„¢, but I don’t like commercial candy bars in general, so don’t listen to me), so the fact that their girls-are-stupid ad campaign won’t bring them female customers (probably a net loss in that demo, I’d guess) doesn’t really hurt them that much.

    But is even the male-gen-Y demo that susceptible to what can only be called asshole appeal? There are many commercials like this, where the viewer is clearly supposed to be like the biggest asshole in the commercial, who is generally a person I’d break off all associations with if he (always he, that I’ve ever seen) pulled any of that crap on me.

    How stupid ARE people? And why do they want to be even stupider?

  6. I love those commercials…especially the ones with Elevator Guy from the Loop. He is essentially reprising his role of being the biggest douche in the world.

  7. This commercial killed my brain every time I saw it.

    The big problem is: It is not funny.

    No funny. No way. No how.

    If you have the ability to stop time, I expect you to come up with something a helluva lot funnier than, “Dude, what are you reading? Soooo juvenile.”

    And if you can’t come up with something funny [ahem, copywriters], then make it clever. The character in the commercial was neither.

    The time-stopping idea is definitely not original (see, e.g., tire commercials, beer commercials, Heroes, Parker Lewis Can’t Lost, and Out of This World). It is not funny (see above). The only facets of the commercial that are “outrageous” are (a) the fact it made it to air and (b) the fact that some dillweed was paid money to pen it.

    I’m not sure who the “Twix” target audience is and I challenge previous or other posters identify the target audience. Please.

    (P.S., Bobarke? Is that you? Beat Macon!)

  8. Not entirely an original idea for a choc. bar. Kit Kat had one to the effect “Take a break, have a Kit Kat.” Where a tired or harried worker would simply sign off for a few moments to eat the choc. bar. Perhaps one doesn’t get Kit Kats in the USA.

  9. What is it with chocolate bars and boring, cliched ads? And hasn’t Kit Kat already used the time-stopping concept??

    How stupid ARE people? And why do they want to be even stupider?

    Stupid people typically think they’re pretty clever. That’s the problem.

  10. I’m sorry, but this is a pretty bad analysis.

    The idea behind the ads is clearly “Need a moment? Have a Twix bar.” This conjures up the association between Twix and relaxation, and of stepping out of the moment for a minute, of pausing.

    Fine, fairly bland ideas for a candy bar.

    The ads then exaggerate that idea to make it funny. Did they succeed in exaggerating the idea while still getting the idea across? Yes, definitely (irrelevant aliens hypothetical aside). Did they succeed in making it funny? Well, that’s up to you.

    No, Sprite isn’t really suggesting that basketball courts will turn to swimming pools when you drink Sprite either. The idea is that Sprite is sporty and refreshing. The ad exaggerates the idea. It’s what ads do.

  11. I don’t believe anyone ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. It’s unfortunate, but I would agree this hits the target with some precision.

    Also, in defense of the copywriter, I can imagine that person was told to ‘make it more accessible’ about 20 times before the client bought this. That’s typically how the funny/smart elements of what could have been a good idea get choked out of any broadcast spot.

  12. You can go to the Twix site and play through a “choose your own adventure”-style, extended version of the blogging ad. It gets even more stupid, culminating with an important life lesson: the best way to get a woman in bed is to pick one that is too dense to detect a blatant lie.

  13. Need to come up with a stupid lie? Eat a twix!

    –Because we know our customers are douche bags and we want to be with them when they are really being themselves.

    Yeah, I hate these ads. It has never made me want to eat a twix.

  14. LOL! This post reminds me of a time a couple of years after the Berlin Wall came down when I was talking to an ex-East German in Berlin. When I told him I worked for an ad agency, railed against Western advertising in *exactly* the same way:

    “Oooh” he said, “I kannot SHTAHND de vestern television advertizementz! It iz all so obliiique and meaningless – vy cannot ze take zi same angle as de ads ve had in zi east before ze vall kame down? Just show us ze produkt, tell us vat it ez for, and FAK OFF!!”

    I tried to explain about context, culture, aspiration, post-modernism, situationist consumerist ethos, etc. but couldn’t. Think I’d have a tough time explaining that to McLaren+Torchinsky too.

  15. The problem with a lot of advertising is advertisers themselves. I don’t mind truly bad advertising, because it can be funny in its own way, but banal, mediocre ads such as this are simply the product of intellectual laziness (with probably some stupidity thrown in for good measure).

    I just sat through a concept meeting this morning where it was clear that someone from the creative agency we were working with had been watching that Discovery Channel “boom-de-yadda” promo at some point last week. Unsurprisingly, the client didn’t really have a problem with it.

  16. I’ll agree that women weren’t the target audience for these ads. Which is a shame, because I’m a woman and Twix are my favorite candy bar. My female friends also seem to like Twix, as those are invariably the first to disappear from mixed bags of candy.

    I really dislike these ads, though. Regardless of their intent, what they have accomplished is that whenever I see a young male eating Twix, I remember the ads.

  17. The only thing that matters is whether the ads sell more Twix. I suspect that Twix is trying to position itself as a stress binge food using hyperbolic examples, where stress eating is shown as a “reasonable”, even clever, response to stress. The ads may actually work very well at that level.

  18. These ads are far from misogynistic. Notice how slow and challenged the men sound? Sure the women “fall” for them, but thats the humorous part. Learn to laugh at others and yourself.

  19. I don’t think the guys in the ads are “stopping time”. I think the point is that cramming a twix in your mouth leaves you unable to speak long enough to come up with a good lie to cover yourself. Which is even worse, morally and technically. As if an offended girl would hang around for you to finish eating a candy bar and explain yourself.

  20. @#18: “I suspect that Twix is trying to position itself as a stress binge food using hyperbolic examples, where stress eating is shown as a “reasonable”, even clever, response to stress.”

    That makes a lot of sense. Good job. I think you’ve got it.

    RE the original post: It’s been a very long time since most ads have actually focused on the actual, legitimate, useful features of the products they are selling. Do Benneton ads focus on the durability of the stitching, or the quality of the fabric, etc? Do beer ads, or car ads, or soft drink ads usually talk about the straightforward relative merits of their product?

  21. What’s with the slam against 55 year old uncles? It’s interesting to see commenters who appreciate insipid marketing try to rationalize this crap. Bet they’re not in the middle aged uncle demographic. What would be really sad is to find out Twix has perfectly targeted its market.

  22. I remember a long time ago either a Frontline documentary or something similar where they talked a little about this sort of thing.

    The guy was talking about MTV and the stereotypical jackass male characters that seemed to popup so much in their shows and ads. They recognized that nobody is really that retarded, but for some reason the network seemed attracted to those types of characters.

    Anyway, I think the point might be that most people look at these bumbling idiots and aren’t as threatened by them, so they’re less threatened by the message being delivered.

  23. In a way, the Twix ads are a variation on the Mentos ads, where someone is faced with a problem, pops a Mentos, and solves it in some quirky way.

    Eventually we’ll have enough of these kinds of ads that candy companies can underwrite a TV show about a candy-powered superhero.

  24. I have been assuming for years that ads show little jokes that have nothing to do with the project, because it becomes almost subliminal. It’s an intentional distraction. You consciously remember the joke or the skit or the chihuahua in the che beret, leaving the product and brand name to slink around your subconscious somewhere. Did I err?

  25. Hey Gilgongo, this is for you:

    By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. Thank you, thank you. Just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day they’ll take root. I don’t know. You try. You do what you can. Kill yourselves. Seriously though, if you are, do. No really, there’s no rationalisation for what you do, and you are Satan’s little helpers, OK? Kill yourselves, seriously. You’re the ruiner of all things good. Seriously, no, this is not a joke. “There’s gonna be a joke coming…” There’s no fucking joke coming, you are Satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage, you are fucked and you are fucking us, kill yourselves, it’s the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show.

    “You know what Bill’s doing now, he’s going for the righteous indignation dollar, that’s a big dollar, a lot of people are feeling that indignation, we’ve done research, huge market. He’s doing a good thing.” Godammit, I’m not doing that, you scumbags, quit putting a godamn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!

    –Bill Hicks

  26. I don’t know about time-bending stuff, the message I got from those ads was : “Buy twix, you’ll trick girls into sleeping with you”.

  27. “I’m not sure who the “Twix” target audience is and I challenge previous or other posters identify the target audience. Please.”

    The target audience is anyone who might potentially eat a Twix, and who will also see that ad and say, “WTF?”

    Because really, the problem for advertisers is that ads come on TV, and watching TV is functionally identical to sleeping. So these ads are basically little nightmares that you might remember when you wake up, because they didn’t make any sense.

  28. Ads are there to make a product memorable.

    I think the fact that this post exists and has gotten this many comments proves that the Twix campaign has worked.

  29. “I thought you were a believer. Someone who’d want to blog about our ideals.”

    “Funny, I thought you were an idiot. And I was right!”

    I’d never make it in advertising.

  30. Please note that using Twix excessively may cause you to appear to age rapidly to people who are not eating Twix, as they experience a divergent flow of time.

    When eating Twix, consider that the implications of Hiesenberg’s quantum wave theory are not fully understood, and Nestle Corporation is not responsible for forks or folds in space-time, parallel universes, or alternate realities; even if they are the direct result of Twix use.

    Please do not use Twix to perform Evil, and respect the privacy of others while using Twix. Nestle is not responsible for pranks, robberies, fraud, bail flight, or rapes which may occur while using Twix.

    etc.

    The poster fails to consider the possibility that these ads are simply from the future.

  31. Given that the genre is ‘dumb humor’ I actually thought these were pretty slickly done. And funny too. The first one anyway, the second not so much. I can totally see having characters and situations like this in a Judd Apatow-type movie.

    Anyway, re the OP, if you think these spots are ‘painfully inane’, then for purposes of comparison, what would you consider to be a ‘good’ ad for a candy bar? Something like the gorilla playing drums perhaps? (Not the warmed-over Bonnie Tyler retread, obviously; that was horrible.)

    Or maybe this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvrFcpeZQ2g

    Or this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHu2d2lBxK8 (spot starts 10 seconds in)

  32. I think you captured the explanation for this campaign perfectly with “deus ex candybar.” These days we expect products to, above all, solve our problems, therefore the escalating need to associate all products with godliness.

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